Monday, July 30, 2012

Healthier You Challenge Week 3: Be a Tweaker

Now that we're three weeks in, you can start to assess and modify your plans if necessary. How is it going so far? I've spoken with quite a few of you who are participating *silently* and I know that some are struggling with motivation or with fully completing your behavior challenges. Here is where we figure out what's working, what's not, and how you can tweak your plan to be more successful.

If you have done well, but not perfectly, you should still be proud of yourself. Is it easy to identify why you were not able to fully complete your challenge? Two weeks ago I skipped one day of strength training because I didn't do it first thing in the morning and told myself I'd do it "later". The problem was, that day and the next were packed minute by minute so there really was no way to get it in. This reinforced that I am much more consistent when I workout in the morning before my family gets up. So my plan last week was to be up at 5:30 M/W/F to lift weights. Unfortunately, I had to schedule two last minute early appointments so my plan was out the window. Because I learned from the previous week that I couldn't just promise myself I'd do it "later", I scheduled a specific time those evenings to do them. It worked and I felt so proud that I didn't let myself make excuses. If you can figure out what thwarted your efforts, try to brainstorm alternatives. Don't come up with just one, try to figure out a plan B, C, D, etc. If you can't stick to your plan, adjust your plan. If you are flexible in your thinking and can get right back up when you stumble, you'll stay on the right track in the long term.

Part of a behavior challenge is keeping track of your behaviors. I've been using the irunurun app (note: you don't have to have a smart phone, you can log in from your computer). I like it because they send me an e-mail reminding me to update my log. If I haven't done something, the reminder is a good nudge to get it done so I can mark it off. If you haven't been logging your challenges, that might be the first tweak to make. One of the participants told me that even though she was a little frustrated that she didn't do as well as she'd hoped the second week, she was able to see that she'd improved from the first week which encouraged her.

If you're struggling to get started, go back to the beginning and pick something easy to gain some momentum. I started with drinking water before my coffee because I knew I needed a "win" in the beginning. What is a small change you can make this week? Could you replace one calorie-laden drink with water? Could you move more even if you're not ready for a long, structured workout routine? Could you write down what you eat? Even if you don't measure portions or figure out calories, your eating will probably change by the sheer fact of having to write it down. Two of my personal training clients who've been struggling to do more than their workout with me once a week just agreed to join Weight Watchers (you know who you are and I WILL be waiting at the door!). So for them, just showing up, and signing up, will be a big move in the right direction. Maybe you're moving along fantastically and you're ready for a new challenge this week. But if you aren't where you'd hoped to be, change things up. You can make small tweaks to the challenges you've had the last two weeks or you can chuck them completely and start over again with a new challenge. You are in control and you make the choices that move you forward or hold you back. You will need to be flexible because there will always be obstacles. It's up to you whether they are roadblocks or detours.

How are you going to tweak this week?

Monday, July 23, 2012

Healthier You Challenge: Week 2

Now that you've finished your first week of the Healthier You Challenge, it's time to assess how you did and plan your next week. If you did a fantastic job last week, you are ready to add a new challenge. Here are some guidelines to help choose your challenge for week 2: 

Hook desired behaviors onto current activities – Choose a behavior that you do without having to think about it and attach the new, desired behavior to the existing one. I need to drink more water so I’m drinking 24 oz. in the mornings before I have my coffee. You can use this same thinking to avoid behaviors you are trying to eliminate. If you usually eat late at night in front of the t.v., head to a different room and try reading instead. You may find that changing a neutral behavior will help change your target behavior with very little effort.

Scaffold your behaviors - Lay a foundation and build from there. Maybe your challenge for the first week is to take two Zumba Fitness classes. After two weeks of that routine, you add two days of strength training. In the fifth week, you add in a hike. Once you have the routine you desire, you can start changing up your activities to keep your forward momentum. Remember, we are not working toward a goal. We are engaging in challenges. Once you feel like you've "accomplished your goal", it's easy to start sliding backward. In order to avoid plateaus or the kind of attitude that leads to yo-yo dieting, you have to think of this as a journey without end. Focus on the job at hand but always think about how you will challenge yourself next.  The great thing is, once you've made the bigger lifestyle changes, your challenges can get more and more fun!

If you didn't do as well as you had hoped last week, use this as a time to reflect and learn. My challenge for last week was to complete three strength training sessions. I only managed two, so I need to figure out how to do better this week. I am going to keep up my challenges of drinking water before my coffee, taking vitamins every day, and completing three strength training sessions. I realize that the best way to guarantee getting those in is to wake up before my family gets up for the day. I will hook the strength training to checking my computer. On Monday, Wednesday and Friday, I will complete my routine before I turn on the computer. Hopefully, this week will go smoothly and next week I'll be ready to add another challenge behavior.

What will your challenge be this week?

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Healthier You Challenge Week 1-- Pick Your Challenge

How to craft an effective behavior challenge:

1. Focus on the Positive— You're trying to change behaviors to make your life better. Stating your challenge in a positive way makes you feel like you are striving toward something, rather than depriving yourself. You want to feel optimistic and excited about making your life better. 

Negative: “I won’t snack at night”
Positive: “A healthy dinner will be my last food for the day.”

Negative: "I won't drink my coffee until I've had 24 oz. of water."
Positive: "I will drink 24 oz. of water before I drink my coffee"

Negative: "I won't stay up too late"
Positive: "I will be in bed, ready for sleep by __:__"

2. Choose behavior that is Specific and Measurable– At the end of a day, you should be able to answer "yes" or "no" to the simple question, did I fulfill my behavior challenge today? Here are two possible challenge statements:

Statement 1: “I will eat healthier.”
Statement 2: “I will eat 5 servings of vegetables a day”

The second statement is much more powerful because it clearly lays out exactly what you expect of yourself and makes it easy to check your progress. If it's the afternoon and you're about to have a snack, check how many servings of vegetables you've already had and eat accordingly.

3. Make sure the behavior is Achievable – If you're a basically sedentary person, stating that you will run 5 miles a day this week is not realistic. We all have lofty goals and believing in your ability to take on a challenge is very important to your success. Think carefully, however, about how big a challenge you are actually prepared for. Too often we bite off more than we can chew, get discouraged, and give up. Make sure your challenge is something you are truly ready to take on and that you have the resources you need in place. 

4. Use terms that are Process-oriented rather than outcome-oriented – I would imagine you've had times that you did everything "right" and still didn't get the outcome you wanted. It's frustrating and discouraging, and sometimes, it makes us want to give up. We can't control all of the variables that affect our lives, but we can control our own choices and behaviors. Focus your challenge on your behavior and the outcome should follow. Again, two examples:

Statement 1: “I will lose 5 lbs.”
Statement 2:“I will follow my eating and exercise plan”

I've weighed on my own scale and the scales at Weight Watchers often enough to know that my body does crazy things when it comes to weight. If my measure of success came only from the number on the scale each week, I'd have given up a long time ago. Statement 1 above sets you up for frustration. What if you lose 4.5 lbs? Does that mean that you failed? The second statement is something that you control completely. At the end of each day you can simply state "yes" or "no" to the question, "did I follow my eating and exercise plan".

Now that you've learned how to state your behavior challenge, you need to decide how you will log each day. There are many options for keeping track of your progress. Here are a few I've used:

Spreadsheet: Make a chart to track your challenge(s). You can keep it on your computer or print it out. I am a big fan of charts; especially when marked off with glittery happy face stickers. Make sure it is in a place where you will see it often!

Calendar: I simply chose a different color marker for each behavior and made a star on my calendar when I'd completed that challenge for the day.

irunurun app: The first "greatness" app. If you are a smart phone user, this app is perfect for tracking your challenge behaviors. You can check it out here. 

Now your task is to choose ONE behavior to focus on this week. Think about the following:

1. A challenge statement that is Positive, Specific and Measurable, Achievable and Process-Oriented.

2. What are possible obstacles to engaging in the desired behavior? How will you handle those obstacles?

3. How will this behavior positively impact your life (and maybe even the lives of those around you)?

Now you can share your challenge with the rest of us so we can cheer you on this week. Feel free to check in as often as you'd like for encouragement and ideas. I'll be checking the post and responding as frequently as possible but this should be a group effort. Think of yourselves as a team working together and cheering each other on!

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Maintaining Control

It can be very difficult to choose healthy behaviors in a world that is constantly tempting you with sugary, salty, fatty, super-sized food, and addictive, sedentary activities like watching t.v. and playing electronic games. How many times have you thought, “If I just had more willpower I could finally ______” (lose weight? get my blood pressure under control? see the abs Brooke keeps yelling about in Zumba class?). It may not just be a matter of trying harder; you’ve got to try smarter.

According to research conducted by Roy F. Baumeister, PhD, willpower acts like a muscle; the more you exercise it, the stronger it gets. We exercise it every time we, “ignore temporary pleasure or discomfort to pursue a longer-term goal.” (IDEA Fitness Journal, March 2009)  But it also fatigues just like our physical muscles.  So every time we deny ourselves in the present situation, we are depleting our resources and increasing our chances of losing control later. And since we have to exercise our willpower muscle a gazillion times a day, we risk losing control a lot. Here’s one example; this is what would go through my head if I was walking around a mall:
“Oooooh, those shoes are so cute and they’d look great with so many of my sundresses, but they’d probably hurt as soon as I stood in them so I will have to stick to sad looking orthopedic shoes for my screwed up feet. Oooooh, if I had a smaller iPod it would be so much easier to choreograph my Zumba routines when my family is trying to find out who’ll be the next to be Chopped, but I’ll just have to deal with my big iPod classic floppin’ around on my arm. And Oooooh, there’s a silver sequin fedora just like Makayla keeps asking for and she really would look soooooooooo cute in it, but she’d probably lose it as soon as she walked out of the door and really, who needs to spend $25 on a fedora for a 7 year old? And seriously, could those Cinnabons smell any better? But they have gluten and are about a gazillion Points Plus so it’s not worth it. And geez I really wish I still had my Hot Dog On A Stick uniform because it would be the greatest Halloween costume.”  (yes, I really did work there, and yes, I really did wear the hat).

And then I see it; the beautiful black letters on an illuminated white sign. My Weight Watchers leader, Suzanne, talks about insane things like going into See’s Candies and buying ONE piece of chocolate and then walking out. What? I am a binger. Like, a champion binger. If bingeing was an Olympic sport, I’d be on my way to London. So if I step through that door, I will be having my own little orgy with a pound of California Brittle, Molasses Chips and Milk Chocolate Bordeaux.

This scenario is why you won’t find me at the mall unless somebody gives me a gift card that can’t be used online. You have to control your environment as much as possible. As much as possible, you must plan and prepare so that you don’t have to make a lot of choices in the situation. If you’re going to a work meeting and you know they’ll have tons of treats, bring a healthy alternative to share. If you know all of your friends are going to ask you to go out for drinks on Friday, preempt them by asking them to do something active like going for a walk or a taking a dance class. Have healthy snacks in your home so that those Cheetos you bought “for the kids” don’t make their way into your belly.

This leads to the next point:  pick your battles.  If those Cheetos or the ice cream in the freezer are constantly calling to you, maybe you need to get them out of the house completely. But maybe your family’s reaction to removing treats is more stressful to you than walking by the pantry and telling yourself, “no Cheetos”. You need to figure out for yourself how to control your environment and which battles you are capable of fighting now. Don’t try to control or change every behavior at once. I will deal with this more in another post, but for now, try to prioritize and choose the most important times to flex your willpower muscle.

Sometimes, no matter how well you plan, prepare, and prioritize, you will still slip up. On Sunday, I was at an event celebrating my grandparents’ 65th wedding anniversary (you read it right folks, 65 years). I knew there would be a lot of yummy treats since the women in my family are all incredibly talented cooks, especially when it comes to desserts. I planned ahead.  I had a healthy breakfast, and even brought a nut bar so I’d have a snack if I got hungry. My willpower muscle had been taxed a lot that weekend and it finally cried “Uncle”.  As I’ve already said, I’m a binger. The issues in this situation were compounded by the fact that everything there had gluten in it (I am "sensitive" to gluten). So my oh-so-smart brain said, “If I’m going to break from my eating plan AND have a gluten hangover the next two days, I’m going to make it worthwhile!” I ate like it was my last meal on earth. I can’t even begin to estimate how many Points Plus it was. And the gluten hangover was monumental; I could hardly function Monday afternoon. Now, I could have walked away from that thinking “I am so weak. I’ll never get this bingeing thing under control. I’m just not someone who can control what I stuff in my face and I’ll never be able to reach my ideal weight and stay there.” But because I know that willpower is a muscle and that mine finally gave out on me that day, I was able to think, “Wow! That was a pretty stupid thing I just did. Now it’s time to get refocused on my goals and my plan.” And then I spent some time trying to figure out what I could have done differently so that maybe I would have been able to handle that situation better. Next time, I will bring a true treat that is safe for my food allergies but also feels indulgent enough that I don't feel like I'm missing out. I also reminded myself that while I slip up occasionally, I have come a long way in my relationship with food. And ultimately, none of this defines who I am. Forgive yourself, learn, and move on.

Another action I think may have made a difference on Sunday would have been to nourish my willpower muscle before we left, or promised myself a different sort of treat for afterward. If I had promised myself that upon returning home I’d get one hour of something relaxing like reading or snuggling with my kids, I may have been better able to skip indulging in Gluten-Fest 2012. Maybe when you feel your willpower muscle fatiguing, it’s time to treat yourself in a healthy way. It might mean a short walk outside, or 15 minutes of reading, or watching a few funny videos on YouTube. Your willpower muscle needs to recover just as your other muscles do. Sleep, healthy food, and activities that exercise your brain and body will all help you keep your willpower muscle strong.

My mom and I were talking about this whole willpower muscle concept the other day and she had a pretty genius insight. She said, “I wonder if that’s part of why moms are so exhausted all the time. They constantly have to say no to their kids when it would be so much easier in the short-term to just let the kids have, and do, what they want.” YES!!! Not only do we have to constantly deny ourselves, we are also flexing our willpower muscles in defense of our children’s little brains and bodies. And to thank us for this service they roll their eyes, whine, and make us feel like ogres! That prompts another willpower exercise (because really, when my daughter stomps her feet at me, what goes on in my head and what I actually do are usually two very different things). So recognize all of the ways that you DO control your behavior every minute of every day. At home, at work, in the car as you drive by In-N-Out, at the grocery store, etc., etc., etc. Pat yourself on the back each time you make a good choice instead of beating yourself up every time you give in.

So if you want to strengthen your willpower muscle:

1.      Plan, Prepare, Prioritize

2.      Forgive yourself when you slip

3.      Nourish your willpower muscle

4.      Give yourself credit
Don't forget that the Healthier You Challenge starts Monday. Feel free to leave your introduction here if you didn't already leave it on the first post!

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Welcome to the Healthier You Challenge!

Those of you who already know me, know that I am a Lifetime Member of Weight Watchers. While I have reached a healthy weight and am generally fit, I still struggle in my relationship with food and would like to further improve my fitness level. As I believe is true of most people, I function best when I have clear goals, a well-defined plan, and lots of support. That's where this challenge comes in. My intention is to give all of us a chance to identify our own challenges, provide support for each other, keep each other motivated, and celebrate each other's successes. The challenge will officially start Monday, July 16th and will run for 60 days. Each week I will share information on how to formulate your challenges and plans as well as tips to stay motivated. I'll be cheering you on every step of the way.

I'm sure you're raring to go and want to start the challenge immediately, but I want you to take the time to set yourself up for success. The first step in doing so is to clearly define your desired outcome(s). The second is to choose challenges which result in the behaviors that will help you achieve your desired outcome. The third step is to engineer a well-defined and realistic plan. The final steps are to stay motivated throughout the challenge and to celebrate your success!

Before we begin, I'd like you to take this week to think about your desired outcome and what behaviors you'll need to change. I ask you to practice thinking in the following terms throughout the week.

Behavior: The way you act in response to a particular situation or stimulus. Think of behaviors as "desirable" or "undesirable".

Challenge: The process by which you consciously control your environment and alter your behaviors to reach a desirable outcome.

Outcome: The end-goal. What do you hope to accomplish? What will be measurably different at the end of this challenge?

Here's where the fun starts:
Task 1: Brainstorm desirable outcomes. Do you want to lose weight? Do you want to increase your fitness indicators? Do you want to have more energy? Do you want to have an organized house? Do you want to get more sleep? Do you want to improve medical indicators such as blood pressure and cholesterol?
Try to be very specific about your desired outcomes. Now try to think of them in terms of process, rather than outcome. Instead of the outcome "lose weight", think about what you'd need to DO in order to lose weight. Maybe you need to stop snacking at night. Maybe you need to stop drinking your calories. Maybe you need to come to more Zumba classes ;)

Task 2: Brainstorm behaviors. Write down all of the behaviors you either want to stop or start. Then, copy them into two columns: Desirable or Undesirable. Try to pair up opposite behaviors. To me, tracking my food and eating mindlessly are opposite behaviors. Try to focus on engaging in Desirable behaviors and making them a habit. Instead of stating my weekly challenge as "I'm going to stop eating mindlessly", I'd state that, "I'm going to track everything I eat and drink." Stating challenges positively helps in many ways, including creating a sense of forward movement and optimism.

Next week we'll work on creating a plan for success. For now, use the comments section to introduce yourself, share your behaviors, ask for ideas, refine your list, and practice using our challenge terms.

I'll start:
I'm Brooke. I'm a 37-year old Fitness Instructor and Personal Trainer. I'm married to a very supportive man, and am "Mom" two young children who are bright, funny, and completely exhausting. I am scatter-brained, very chatty, and a bit of a drama queen. I struggle with finding moderation in any aspect of my behavior. I'd like to improve my body-composition and fitness level in a way that is realistic and sustainable. My brainstorm list is:
  • Drink more water
  • Measure and track food and drink
  • Engage in a consistent and structured Strength Training routine
  • Take vitamins every day
  • Stretch every day
  • Do high intensity interval training
  • Eat only when I'm hungry and only until I'm satisfied
  • Engage in some sort of mindfulness or meditative process every day (this one is soooo hard for me!)
Remember, this is just the brainstorming step. We'll have plenty of time to tweak and refine!

Your turn! (click below where it says #comments to join in the conversation)